Ontario Holiday Planning Guide
Popular with tourists throughout the year, Ontario holidays allow you to explore unspoiled natural landscapes and big cities packed with amenities and modern attractions. Containing the national capital and the country's largest city, this east-central province provides a home for nearly 40 percent of Canada's population. Home to a staggering number of lakes (250,000), this playground for nature lovers boasts approximately a third of the world's fresh water. You can spend your entire Ontario vacation driving, walking, skiing, or cycling across the region's sprawling wilderness, but for a well-rounded experience, make sure you spend some time in Toronto, a cosmopolitan provincial capital known for its multicultural neighborhoods and outstanding food scene.
Places to Visit in Ontario
Cities in OntarioOttawa
: The national capital invites visitors to discover its impressive architecture, trendy hotels, shops, restaurants, and North America's oldest continuously operated canal system.Toronto
: Possibly the world's most diverse city, the "New York City of Canada" boasts world-famous restaurants, award-winning museums, well-preserved Victorian and Edwardian buildings, as well as fine examples of 20th-century architecture.Niagara-on-the-Lake
: A top destination on many Ontario itineraries, the "Loveliest Town in Canada" offers relaxing, scenic experiences--sip on a vintage and enjoy views of the graceful Victorian homes in Canada's wine country.Kingston
: Rich with historic and cultural sites, such as old churches and 19th-century fortifications, the "Limestone City" also boasts a lively nightlife scene.Blue Mountains
: Nestled between alpine playgrounds and an appealing coastline, this 21st-century town serves as a popular tourist hub and a great base for outdoorsy Ontario holidays.Tobermory
: Offering arguably the best wreck diving in the country, this seaside town attracts visitors looking to perfect their scuba diving skills.Peterborough
: Serving as the gateway to the Kawartha Lakes, this "Electric City" offers romantic river boat cruises, guided walks along a network of scenic paths, and numerous indoor and outdoor music events.
Popular Ontario Tourist AttractionsNiagara Falls
: One of the most impressive tourist attractions in Ontario offers scenic boat tours and a bird's-eye view of the entire region from its observation tower.CN Tower
: Toronto's recognizable landmark remains one of the world's highest towers, offering views of the city from a glass elevator, revolving restaurant, and 553 m (1,815 ft) high pod.St. Lawrence Market
: This covered market, the history of which dates back to 1803, showcases the capital city's most diverse range of fresh food vendors and a bustling food court.Ripley's Aquarium of Canada
: A fixture on family trips to Ontario, this colorful underwater world boasts shark tanks, ray pools, and an ethereal jellyfish display.Parliament Hill and Buildings
: Overlooking the Ottawa River, the parliament buildings and their surrounding gardens represent the heart of the city for Ottawa residents.Royal Ontario Museum
: Canada's largest museum offers informative and up-to-date exhibits, as well as an extensive collection of artwork from around the globe.The Distillery District
: One of Toronto's top tourist hubs, this district contains modern art galleries, artist workshops, trendy eateries, and upscale boutiques all housed inside preserved Victorian-era buildings.Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory
: Topped with a glass dome, this modern insect zoo is home to over 2,000 butterflies from El Salvador, Costa Rica, Australia, and the Philippines, flying freely through the lush vegetation.Toronto Islands
: Take a break from your Ontario sightseeing along the pleasant beaches and scenic nature trails of these park islands, complete with amusement rides and historical landmarks.Rideau Canal
: Popular with boaters during the summer months, North America's oldest operational canal system is home to the world's largest skating rink in the winter.
Planning an Ontario Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Ontario with Kids
Ontario has much to offer to families--from natural wonders, colorful wildlife, and backcountry canoe-camping trips to theme parks and interactive exhibits designed especially for children. Its two major cities are filled with kid-friendly attractions, but don't overlook the quaint smaller towns, either.Ottawa
is known for the world's largest natural skating rink and North America's biggest winter festival. Toronto
attracts families with its many thrills, including a hedonistic government-run theme park and a pioneer village.
A family vacation in Ontario wouldn't be complete without a trip to one of the towns in the popular "cottage country," such as Muskoka Lakes
or Rideau Lakes
, where everything revolves around campfires and canoe rides. A quintessential Ontario experience includes river rafting and dogsledding in Algonquin Provincial Park
, which combines a high level of infrastructure with pristine nature.
The science centers in Sudbury
offer hands-on exhibits that will keep your children's minds alert and busy. Serving as the gateway for exploring northwestern Ontario, Sault Ste. Marie
is the first stop on a popular scenic train ride through a granite wilderness your kids will love.
Last but not least comes Niagara Falls
, where, in addition to one of the world's natural wonders, a host of theme parks, aquariums, haunted houses, and an enormous sky wheel keep it among the top places to visit in Ontario.
Things to Do in Ontario with Kids
Apart from beautiful nature and exciting wilderness, Ontario is home to many amusement parks, historic sites, and museums, all of which at least partially cater to children.
Animal lovers should pay a visit to Toronto Zoo
, one of the world's largest, and Ripley's Aquarium of Canada
. Nature enthusiasts can enter the world of colorful insects at the Butterfly Conservatory
or take Journey Behind the Falls
to admire Niagara Falls from a different vantage point.
Young scientists can learn as they play at Ontario Science Centre
, and you can add a slice of history on your Ontario holiday at Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum
or Lang Pioneer Village Museum
Round out your itinerary with some fun family outings, such as ice skating on Rideau Canal
, thrills and waterslides at Canada's Wonderland
, or nostalgic rides at Lakeside Park Carousel
Tips for a Family Vacation in Ontario
When packing for a family vacation in Ontario, don't forget to bring sunscreen, rain gear, and layered clothing, since cool spells can occur throughout the year, even during the summer months. On camping and hiking trips, bug spray and a bear bell are indispensable. Binoculars are also useful props for young nature explorers. When visiting Niagara Falls
, bring a change of clothes and shoes because you will certainly get wet. In Toronto, buying a CityPass will save you not only money but also time, since you won't have to wait in lines to enter the capital's major attractions.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Ontario
Cuisine of Ontario
Influenced by the region's diverse multicultural heritage, Ontario's culinary offerings include a wide range of products from maple syrup, German sausages, and prize-winning cheddar cheese to Caribbean specialties in Toronto and Lebanese vegetarian options in Ottawa.
The delis and butcher shops in the twin cities of Kitchener
are the best spots to taste a hearty German-style meal and locally made Oktoberfest sausage. Northern Ontario's myriad lakes are home to freshwater pickerel with a mild flavor. The scenic area around Sudbury
is known for wild blueberries, sold at farmer's markets and roadside farms across the region. Likewise, roadside stalls offering hand-picked corn crop up all across southern Ontario during the summer.
A trip to Ontario wouldn't be complete without tasting the most iconic Canadian topping, maple syrup, at a working sugar bush like Sugarbush Hill Maple Farm Ltd.
. Kiosks at the nation's capital and other tourist-heavy locations, such as ski resorts and theme parks, offer another sweet treat, the beaver tail--fried flattened dough coated with a range of toppings. Meanwhile, wine connoisseurs must pay a visit to one of the Niagara wineries.
Shopping in Ontario
While Ontario's biggest cities, Toronto and Ottawa, clearly offer great shopping opportunities, the region's smaller towns feature quaint local stores and one-of-a-kind boutiques selling local crafts, artwork, and regional food.
Walk the streets of downtown Ottawa, lined with fashion, souvenir, and jewelry stores and browse for handcrafted goods, classy Canadian gifts, and First Nations and Inuit art. For more art, from traditional to avant-garde, as well as funky décor, vintage clothing, and designer garments, head to the arts and design district of Toronto. Check out the city's trendiest shopping scene at Queen Street
is a perfect place to search for fine fabrics, lace, and antique dressers. For more handicrafts, including Mennonite quilts, Aboriginal art, and fine handmade furniture, visit St. Jacobs
Culinary enthusiasts should consider including the farmer's market in Elora
and St. Jacobs in their Ontario itineraries. Cheese lovers will want to make a stop in the small town of Dundas
, known for its fine cheese shops.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Ontario
Interesting Facts About Ontario
● Toronto is arguably one of the world's most multicultural cities.
● The reputed historical inspiration for the legend of Paul Bunyan was Mattawa-born lumberjack Big Joe Mufferaw.
● Most know that lacrosse and ice hockey are the national sports of Canada, but few are aware that basketball was invented by Dr. James Naismith, an Ontario native.
● If your Ontario trip takes you to Sudbury
, you'll be able to see the world's largest coin, the Big Nickel.
● Toronto shoppers can enjoy the PATH, North America's largest underground pedestrian system, with 30 km (19 mi) of arcades.
boasts North America's shortest railway in history, the Thousand Island Railway, which ran 5.43 km (3.32 mi).
Holidays & Festivals in Ontario
Ontario observes the same public holidays as the rest of Canada, but also a few of its own, which make perfect additions to your Ontario vacation. For example, in August, Toronto's Caribbean community celebrates the Caribana Festival with a colorful parade of over 10,000 costumed participants. In September, the city also hosts the influential Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), plus scores of other film festivals.
The German community, which is particularly strong in this Canadian province, organizes the largest Oktoberfest outside of Germany in Kitchener
every year. Other interesting festivities related to the region's multicultural heritage include powwows--First Nation celebrations that include music, dancing, arts and crafts, and delicious food.
Each fall, more than 230 fairs featuring fiddle playing and pumpkin contests pop up across Ontario. Wine connoisseurs can add gala dinners and top quality vintages to their Ontario holiday at one of the wine festivals around Niagara-on-the-Lake
, held in January and September. Winter in Ontario ushers in numerous events filled with frosty sports, from ice hockey and ice climbing to snowmobiling and sledding.
Useful Ontario Travel Tips
Climate of Ontario
In general, Ontario enjoys a humid continental climate, which slightly differs by season and location. The northernmost part of the province, affected by cold, dry, arctic air, experiences short summers and long cold winters. Ski trips to Ontario can take advantage of the long season, since snow cover remains half the year in northern parts of the country. Parts of southern and southwestern Ontario enjoy milder winters and warm, humid summers, thanks to the tempering effect of the Great Lakes and warm, moist air coming from the Atlantic Ocean. Central and eastern Ontario have warm, sometimes even hot summers and colder, longer winters with plenty of snowfall. The average summer temperature in Toronto hovers around 20.8 C (69.4 F), while the winter temperature stays around -6.3 C (20.7 F).
Transportation in Ontario
Ontario occupies a territory of over 1 million sq km (415,000 sq mi), covered by an extensive network of paved highways, railways, waterways, and domestic flights. Booking a charter flight or connecting flights is the best way to cross larger distances and get from the gateway cities of Toronto and Ottawa to more remote locations, such as Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Timmins, Hamilton, London, and Windsor. Coach buses remain the most inexpensive way to travel between cities on your Ontario trip, and sometimes the only way to move between smaller towns, other than renting a car. Trains let you hop across the border and visit the major cities of New York. Public transportation within most cities in Ontario comprises only buses and streetcars, with the exception of Toronto, which also has a subway.